It was a bright, saffron yellow colour and you fastened it to my collar with a safety pin. You even thought of bringing a safety pin!
My mother wasn’t impressed. She believed that, when it came to flowers, yellow signified disdain. Reds, pinks, whites and all hues in between were perfectly fine, but yellow was the wrong colour if you wanted to make a good first impression on my mother.
She didn’t say anything to you, though. She just watched us take off in your car (would you believe I don’t remember what colour your car was, back in those days?) and she waved us goodbye with teeth clenched behind her smile. Later that night, after you delivered me home, safe, sound and still a virgin, I pressed the tulip, which was already languishing, between the pages of the phone book.
Let’s move onto the water lilies. It’s a fine summer’s day, a lazy Saturday, two years after that first date. The dry tulip, together with the dry yellow roses and daffodils that came later, is now living – or should I say perpetually dying – between the leaves of my journal. My mother continues to believe that your preference for yellow is a bad omen; if you hold me in such contempt now, what will it be like after we get married, after we have children, after we become as used to each other as one does to wearing a pair of old, faded jeans?
She never voices any of these concerns to you, though. She only brings them up with me, usually when we are alone in the sewing room, as she struggles in vain to teach me the art of dressmaking, to prepare me for married life. Much as I try to please her, my patterns are always crooked and my stitches uneven. To her despair, I am not nearly as interested in crafts as I am in numbers, and she blames that on you too, on the formulae you share with me, the theories you propagate, about measured risk-taking, about odds and percentages, about everything in life being subject to the laws of arithmetic.
She must be right, because when you produce the ring out of your pocket this particular Saturday, and kneel down next to the pond, and ask me the question I never thought you’d ask, I answer you with another question:
‘What would you say are the odds of me saying yes?’
‘I’d say ninety-nine to one,’ you answer confidently.
To your disbelief, I snatch the ring from your fingers and cast it into the murky pond.
‘Ha! What do you think are the odds of you finding that ring in the pond?’ I ask, but you are too stunned to reply. You stand up slowly, and stare hopelessly at the pond.
‘Perhaps one in a million,’ you manage to mumble when you find your voice. ‘Have you any idea,’ you then say, striving to sound measured, ‘how many months’ salary I spent on that ring?’
And with that, you turn on your heels and walk away.
Later, when I tell my mother, she insists on walking with me to the pond.
‘The problem with that boy,’ she says as we approach, ‘is that he only believes in numbers, and there are times in life one needs to believe in miracles.’
And I watch my mother, my old, big fleshy mother, strip down to her undergarments and disappear in the green, cloudy water. She emerges at the centre, among the water lilies. There, resting on one of the leaves, catching the light of the dying sun, is the ring.
Image credit: Robert Gavila http://www.gavila.com/artist/Photos/Photos.html